Correction: Unfortunately, there were some errors in our original statement below.
We accept the dump site in question is outside the Hauraki Gulf, but Forest & Bird remain concerned at the potential environmental effects on Cuvier Island, which is in the Hauraki Gulf and one of only 11 sites worldwide where the vulnerable native Pycroft’s petrel breeds.
The EPA acknowledged in its decision the lack of certainty about the environmental effects of its consent. In our view, the EPA decision provides for the potential for there to be unacceptable environmental risks with vulnerable marine ecosystems.
We acknowledge the most contaminated sludge will be sent to land based facilities, and our error in misinterpreting this condition. However, we remain unclear from the EPA’s decision what degree of contamination they consider to be acceptable for dumping in the marine environment.
Forest & Bird is opposed to using our marine environment as an uncontained dumping ground. We stand by our view that industrial quantities of sediment and sludge be properly managed and contained on land based facilities, not dumped in our ocean.
A decision to let Ports of Auckland dump two million cubic metres of potentially contaminated sludge in the Hauraki Gulf is shocking, says Forest & Bird.
The government’s Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) was not doing its job – protecting the environment – when it gave consent for Ports of Auckland to dump sludge near Cuvier Island for the next 35 years, says Forest & Bird northern regional manager Nick Beveridge.
Sludge will be dredged from the port at downtown Auckland and from the Waitemata shipping channel and dumped between Great Barrier Island and the Coromandel Peninsula.
Testing has shown the sediment from the port and channel is at times contaminated with such high levels of mercury, tributyltin (TBT) and DDT that it exceeds the ‘high’ level in New Zealand water safety standards, the EPA states in its decision to allow the dumping.
Contaminants in the sludge could be released into the ocean and “have the potential to exert acute or chronic effects on the various marine species who live in the water column,” the EPA decision says.
Mr Beveridge says people often go fishing in and around the 15 kilometre wide dump site in summer, posing a risk that contaminated fish could be caught and eaten.
“The sludge dumping will smother corals, shellfish and marine life on the sea floor.
“It could increase levels of toxins in fish and in the dolphins, whales and seabirds that eat them.
“Some of the sludge will dissipate into the sea, adding a muddy cloud that destroys the clarity of the water,” Mr Beveridge says.
The Department of Conservation (DOC) raised serious concerns about the dumping, but these were dismissed by the EPA.
DOC said there were a variety of protected species in the dumping area, including whale sharks, manta rays, leatherback turtles, and spine-tailed devil rays. Protected deep water corals and smalltooth sandtiger sharks could also be present at the dump site, DOC said.
“The Department is concerned with the lack of reliable information on the location of threatened species and rare and vulnerable ecosystems in the vicinity of the proposed disposal site,” DOC said in a report to the EPA.
“Considering the sensitivity of threatened marine organisms like corals to sedimentation, there is a significant risk that the activity may smother any such organisms in the vicinity.”
The sludge could create a two metre deep carpet on the sea floor within the dump site, the EPA decison states.
The EPA acknowledged rare species in the dumping area could suffer “significant” harm, but said the dumping was acceptable because the rare species could probably be found elsewhere.
Mr Beveridge says dumping sludge is unacceptable in an area that provides habitat for many species of endangered dolphins, whales and seabirds.
Cuvier Island is one of 11 islands in the world where the vulnerable native Pycroft’s petrel breeds, says Mr Beveridge.
The EPA acknowledged there was a “lack of information on the nature of the seabed at and around the proposed dumping site and therefore the potential effects on the environment”.
It also states “the EPA must favour caution and environmental protection” if the “information available is uncertain or inadequate”.
Nevertheless, it gave consent for up to 450,000 cubic metres of sludge to be dumped every year until 2054 at the Cuvier dump site, which has been used for dumping since 2010.
“It’s staggering that in the face of the lack of information on the environmental damage this dumping is likely to cause, the EPA still gave permission for it to go ahead,” Mr Beveridge says.
The Environmental Protection Authority chose not to notify the public, Great Barrier or Waiheke local boards, or environmental organisations about the application for marine dumping. This means Forest & Bird and local communities had no chance to make submissions and cannot appeal against the consent.
Ports of Auckland, which is owned by Auckland Council, could not have gained consent to dump waste at sea unless there was no land-based option for dumping available at a reasonable cost.
“Auckland Council owns dozens of landfill sites and industrial properties, so it’s hard to believe Ports of Auckland couldn’t find somewhere on land to dump this sludge,” says Mr Beveridge.
“It’s free to dump waste in the sea, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best place for everyone to throw their rubbish.
“The Hauraki Gulf is a stunning natural environment that provides a home for an amazing range of marine life and seabirds – we need to look after it better.”
Mr Beveridge is concerned about the overall effects of overfishing, climate change and sludge dumping at different sites in the Hauraki Gulf.
In February, the EPA granted consent to Coastal Resources Limited to dump 250,000 cubic metres of sludge a year for the next 35 years off Great Barrier Island. This decision has been appealed by Ngati Rehua Ngatiwai ki Aotea and The Society for the Protection of Aotea Community and Ecology.
See the EPA decision on the Ports of Auckland marine dumping here.
For further questions or comments, please contact
Northern regional manager
09 302 3901
Auckland communications officer
022 639 0671